Learning with music can change brain structure

Learning with music can change brain structure

 

Monday, 10 July, 2017

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh's Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (Katie Overy and Emma Moore), Clinical Research Imaging Centre (Neil Roberts), and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (Mark Bastin), along with Leiden University (Rebecca S. Schaefer), have shown that using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain. The study, published in Brain and Cognition, finds that people who practiced a basic movement task to music show increased structural connectivity between the regions of the brain that process sound and control movement. These findings are focussed on white matter pathways in  the brain – the wiring that enables brain cells to communicate with each other.   Thirty right-handed volunteers were divided into two groups and charged with learning a new task involving sequences of finger movements with the non-dominant, left hand. One group learned the task with musical cues, the other group without music. After four weeks of practice, both groups of volunteers performed equally well at learning the sequences. Using MRI scans, it was found that the music group showed a significant increase in structural connectivity in the white matter tract that links auditory and motor regions on the right side of the brain. The non-music group showed no change.   Researchers hope that future study with larger numbers of participants will examine whether music can help with special kinds of motor rehabilitation programmes, such as after a stroke. The study could have positive implications for future research into rehabilitation for patients who have lost some degree of movement control.   The interdisciplinary project brought together researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development, Clinical Research Imaging Centre, and Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, and from Clinical Neuropsychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands.   Dr Katie Overy, who led the research team said: “The study suggests that music makes a key difference. We have long known that music encourages people to move. This study provides the first experimental evidence that adding musical cues to learning new motor task can lead to changes in white matter structure in the brain.”